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Bills on book bans, corporate health care at risk as Oregon legislative session nears adjournment

Oregon state Representative Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, is sitting at his desk on the House floor.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Oregon state Representative Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, introduced a bill this year to restrict corporate ownership of some health care practices. The bill is in jeopardy as the legislative session nears an end.

With Oregon lawmakers speeding toward adjournment, two of the legislative session’s more contentious bills could be left in the dust.

This week, Republicans who oppose bills touching on corporate health care and book bans employed a tactic that has special power near the end of the session. They ordered up “minority reports” — substitute proposals that lawmakers can introduce in an attempt to replace bills they disagree with.

The strategy isn’t an efficient way to change legislation. Minority reports — typically introduced by minority Republicans — are routinely voted down in the full House or Senate, as Democrats proceed with the version of the bill they favor.

However, ordering the reports can cause delays in the legislative process. As things stood Thursday morning, it appeared that both House Bill 4130 and Senate Bill 1583 would not be eligible for a vote until Saturday under normal legislative timelines — past when many lawmakers have been counting on adjourning. The body must adjourn by midnight Sunday at the latest.

“The timing is key,” said state Sen Lew Frederick, D-Portland, who introduced SB 1583. “I believe we can move it through even given the deadlines of minority reports, floor sessions and Sine Die.”

In a session dominated by major bipartisan bills, the two proposals targeted by Republicans are among the most hard-fought ideas to proceed to the precipice of passage.

SB 1583 would block school boards and other school officials from removing or refusing to offer library books or textbooks simply because they contain the perspective of, or are written by, members of protected classes that can include people of color, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and more.

Frederick has sold the bill as a simple and common sense proposal that builds off of existing rules against discrimination in Oregon schools. But in an era where book bans are increasing nationally, the bill has sparked a firestorm. The bill passed the Senate last week.

HB 4130 is a complex proposal that would create some of the strictest limits in the nation on corporate and private equity ownership of primary care and specialty clinics.

The bill would require physicians to hold a 51% controlling stake in businesses, like independent clinics, that provide medical care. It also targets a particular workaround that private equity firms have used to control medical practices while skirting existing bans on corporate control of medicine.

The bill was put forward by Rep. Ben Bowman, D-Tigard, who has said increasing corporate ownership of medical practices could reduce the quality of care as companies relentlessly prioritize profits over patients’ care.

But it ran afoul of some Republicans, who said they were concerned it could push investors away from Oregon and leave struggling clinics with fewer options to keep doors open.

“It passed the House with 42 members voting in favor and I hope my colleagues in the Senate have an opportunity to vote for it too,” Bowman said on Thursday. “If that doesn’t happen this session, I’ll bring it back because no corporation or private equity firm should be able to get between a patient and their doctor.”

The tactics Republicans are employing to potentially stymie the bills are identical.

On Monday, Republicans in the Senate Rules Committee announced they would order a minority report when the committee passed an amended version of HB 4130 cleared the committee over their objections.

Under Senate rules, that triggered a three-day clock for the objecting senators to submit their minority report for consideration. It is due by 5 p.m. Thursday, after which HB 4130 can be considered on the Senate floor. But assuming Republicans do not agree to suspend rules that require the bill to be read on three separate days before a vote, it would not be eligible for a final Senate vote until Saturday.

The House has different timelines for minority reports. But since SB 1583 was only voted out of committee late on Wednesday, it also faces a potential vote on Saturday.

Deals are common in the late days of session and lawmakers who support the bills say they are hopeful something will break the logjam.

“It’s still in consideration and the plan is to keep it moving forward,” Hazel Tylinski, a spokesperson for House Speaker Dan Rayfield, said of SB 1583 on Thursday morning.

But if a deal between the parties isn’t reached, the bills’ chances likely hinge on whether lawmakers remain in session until Saturday.

That appeared unlikely Thursday morning. Lawmakers, lobbyists and staff members have widely predicted the Legislature would adjourn on Thursday or Friday.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for KLCC. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.
Amelia Templeton
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